Friday, November 4, 2016

VINYL RECORDS: Pop Culture Collectibles

There has been a great deal of talk about vinyl records making a comeback. Last week my wife and I wandered through Crate and Barrel to discover they were selling a fancy record player and the latest albums of today on vinyl format. There are a large number of vinyl record album trade shows where vendors display varied price tags with their wares, based upon condition and edition. To the mainstream public who can download all of The Beatles songs from Apple iTunes, the question of why people would even bother to collect LP records stems from a misconception that everything is already available on digital format. To a generation that grew up with pops and clicks in the soundtrack, this brings back memories that hi-fidelity and 5.1 surround sound cannot provide. But I digress: there are loads of children's albums that have never been available commercially since their initial release. And for fans of old-time radio, such as myself, these records are unexplored and overlooked... and provide thousands of hours of enjoyment.

A little over a month ago I purchased an all-in-one LP-to-CD standalone (which also converts audio cassettes to CD) with relative ease. A few tweaks are permitted with the controls and after a few minutes of reading the instructions, and trial and error, I found myself converting a dozen LP records a day. The coming decade will define the digital age. With reluctance I eventually talked myself into going digital -- but with high standards of quality and assurance. Will I be able to liquidate and clear out a closet full of hundreds of children's records? Yes. Will I still be able to retain the recordings themselves to listen to any time I want? Yes. 

The transfer process has to be done at real time. If it takes 40 minutes to listen to play both sides of the vinyl, it takes 40 minutes to convert to CD. There are no speedy shortcuts. Considering the fact that I have not listened to a vinyl album for more than a decade, I was shocked to discover how much I enjoyed a little over half of the albums I was transferring. And an even bigger surprise was the discovery that many actors who made a living in radio made the transition to recording studio. Ralph Bell, Dan Ocko, Ronald Liss, Daws Butler, Jackson Beck, Paul Frees, June Foray and many others were supplying voices for dramatic readings and audio dramas. (The terms "radio drama" and "audio drama" are often used interchangeably but unless the recording was designed specifically for radio, not a vinyl album, they are considered an audio drama.)

From Batman, Superman, Star Trek, Hopalong Cassidy, Dick Tracy, Alfred Hitchcock, The Great Gildersleeve, The Six Million Dollar Man, Planet of the Apes, and many others made the decision to commercialize on the vinyl market. Most of these dramas were scripted for commercial use, not soundtracks excised from television or radio broadcasts. One of the most enjoyable (to my surprise) was Yogi Bear and the Three Stooges (1966). Daws Butler, who voiced Yogi Bear for the cartoons, reprises his role for this album... as well as Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curley Joe. You can listen to the album (including the introductory Yogi Bear song) here on YouTube.

Many of the Batman albums were enjoyable and the stories were adapted from the actual comic books. I recognized Casey Kasem reprising his role as Robin, the Boy Wonder, for at least one of these albums. It was bizarre to listen to Star Trek dramas with James Doohan reprising his role as Scotty with a cast that was by no means comparison to Leonard Nimoy or DeForest Kelley... but the actor playing Captain Kirk did a superb impersonation of William Shatner. Listening to Basil Rathbone, assisted with Ian Martin and Peter Fernandez, in a dramatic version of The Lost World was better than I expected when you consider the fact that the adaptation was lifted from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel, but with plenty of variations to ensure I was listening to something new. 

For those who cannot get enough of The Witch's Tales, a 1930s late-night horror radio program, I recommend Terror Tales by the Old Sea Hag. Produced in 1959 and featuring Martha Wentworth as an old witch who narrates six creepy stories ("Mice from Outer Space," "The Devil Octopus," "The Spooky Where" and "Terror Train" to name a few) was very entertaining. Not the same as listening to Old Nancy from The Witch's Tales, but a close second worth seeking out.

For those who cannot get enough Interplanetary adventure, Space Patrol, Rocky Jones and Captain Video features the original television and radio cast reprising their roles for new adventures. Walt Disney produced Davy Crockett with Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen; Guy Williams reprised his role for Zorro. If you love King Kong, you might want to seek out the 1974 Wonderland Record, adapted from the 1933 RKO motion picture. Adapted for recording by Cherney Berg, the complete story was dramatized with more emphasis on Kong's rampage through New York City, through the eyes and ears of the pilots and witnesses on the street. If you enjoy the Yukon adventures of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, you might want to seek out the 1952 Decca Records. Scripted by Fran Striker, who I would like to point out did not create the Preston series, the origin of Preston in "The Case That Made Preston a Sergeant" and the origin of King, the wonder dog in "The Case of the Orphan Dog," are essential listening.

Virtually thousands of children's records were produced from the 1950s through the 1980s, and I would imagine by this time most of them have been transferred to digital and are available online either through YouTube and various websites on the Internet. The quality of the productions vary; one of the Superman albums had terrible production values while other Superman albums were entertaining. 

Often overlooked by aficionados of old-time radio programs, today's technology of iPads and iPhones provide you with the tool to "click and listen" to many of these vinyl albums. Long commute to work every day? Explore a number of these albums.